Why do you Need an Advance Directive?

When we mention this term to people, the first question that they ask, is what are Advance Directives?

The term advance directives refers to treatment preferences and the designation of a surrogate decision-maker in the event that a person should become unable to make medical decisions on her or his own behalf. Advance directives are a way for you to give consent for certain situations where you might want or not want medical treatment.

They can also be used to appoint someone to make decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. An advance directive gives you a better chance of having your wishes carried out, even if you can’t talk to the doctors about what you want.

However, advance directives can address more than simply medical decisions. Advance directives are for times you cannot speak for yourself. They can apply to situations in which you may need someone to make legal and/or business decisions on your behalf when you are not able to do so.

Advance directives generally fall into three categories: living will, power of attorney, and healthcare proxy.

Living Will

A living will is a written document that specifies what types of medical treatment are desired should the individual become incapacitated. A living will also allow you to document your wishes concerning medical treatments at the end of life. This document describes how a person wants emergency and/or end-of-life care to be managed.

Power of Attorney

Power of attorney (POA) documents allow a person to give a trusted individual the ability to make decisions on their behalf. A POA can be written to grant an agent the ability to act in very broad terms or to only take specific actions. A power of attorney can be limited or general. If a person becomes incapacitated without drawing up POA documents, their family members may have to go through the long and expensive process of seeking guardianship to be able to manage their affairs.
In addition to the various terms that are possible for a POA, there are two general areas in which powers of attorney are granted: health care and finances.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

This type of POA document gives a designated person the authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the principal. A medical POA essentially gives someone you trust the ability to oversee your medical care and ensure that your advance directives are followed. Without appointing a POA for your healthcare, your family members may not be able to access your medical information or actively participate in decision making. Medical POA is sometimes referred to as a health care proxy.

Financial Power of Attorney

This type of POA document gives a designated person the authority to make legal and/or financial decisions on behalf of the principal. When someone becomes incapacitated, whether permanently or temporarily, bills and other financial matters do not stop. Without a financial POA, bills may go unpaid, which can have serious, lasting consequences, and family members may not be able to access one’s accounts to cover health care costs.

The type and extent of the agent’s powers are entirely customizable. For example, the agent may be authorized to manage all of a principal’s finances and property or they may only be able to oversee certain investments or transactions.

Healthcare Proxy

A healthcare proxy, similar to a medical power of attorney, allows you to appoint a person you trust as your healthcare agent (or surrogate decision maker), who is authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Before a medical power of attorney goes into effect, a person’s physician must conclude that they are unable to make their own medical decisions. In addition:

  • If a person regains the ability to make decisions, the agent cannot continue to act on the person’s behalf.
  • Many states have additional requirements that apply only to decisions about life-sustaining medical treatments.

Even though others may be able to make health care or financial decisions for you without an advance directive, they can give you more control over those decisions and who makes them.